GREENVILLE — Hate crime doesn’t occur in Greenville, at least according to most residents. On Tuesday night, however, someone set fire and spray-painted “Vote Trump!” along the side of the historic Hopewell Baptist Church. The FBI opened a civil rights investigation to determine if the arson was motivated by racism. As the smoke rose from the church, and the police officer placed yellow crime tape around the area, many members of the community were shocked and sought out a better explanation. “We don’t have a problem with race here in Greenville. Perhaps we are being infiltrated by crime from another country. The Rev. said that he didn’t believe we would have black or white people in our area who would engage in this. Theautry Winters. “We have great people in Greenville.” The fire was reported by a neighbor of the church shortly after 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday night. According to Chief Ruben Brown, firefighters arrived just minutes later and found the church in flames. Brown stated that investigators worked all night to collect evidence. They had determined that the fire was arson by the morning of the next day and located the source at the back of the church near a pair of windows. The state crime laboratory has received samples from the scene. Results are expected within two to five working days. According to Greenville police chief Delando Wilson, there are no suspects, but the police spoke to a person of concern. National media outlets and state leaders reacted to the news. Gov. Gov. We have a lot of gang activity. The Rev. said that he believes it is gang activity rather than hate crimes. Amos Gilmore, a Greenville resident who is pastor at Metcalfe’s Christian Life Church, was the victim. “I’d prefer that.” Polly Powell, who lives next to the church, called the fire department after hearing the alarm. They ignored it for several minutes as they mistakenly thought it was a burglar alarm. Powell replied, “Oh, I guess somebody’s messing up with the church again.” “… I believe [Vote Trump] was placed there to keep the scent from the real trail. It has nothing to do Trump,” the Rev. Brandt Dick, a minister at St. James Episcopal Church which is predominantly white, stated that he had heard the theory that Trump spray paint was a fake flag and hopes it is true. Dick stated that he really wanted it to look like that. “Because it’s not something I would want to believe there are people in this state who would do that.” Greenville is a tolerant and peaceful oasis in a racially turbulent region. Many residents are happy to talk about the Ku Klux Klan if it comes up during conversation. They will tell you the story of how the town united in 1920s to drive them out. Greenville’s school board became the first Mississippi district to desegregate its schools in the 1960s. Rodney McNeal was baptized in Hopewell as a child and said that he is comfortable being surrounded by white people because he is a black man. “You get to know everyone here. He said, “You can go anywhere and you can shop everywhere.” There are still white neighborhoods. Mississippi Today spoke to many residents, who admitted that they were shocked at the Hopewell fire. However, there have been signs of racial tension in recent months. Mayor Errick Simmons stated that he was contacted by a caller claiming that someone had spray-painted the N-word in tall letters at the Greenville levee boat loading dock. Willie Hass, a Greenville resident, and Amos Gilmore, the pastor said they felt less comfortable this summer in local white-owned businesses for the first time since decades. Gilmore stated that it was the attitude of people in public places. “Nobody’s in any hurry to wait for you,” Gilmore explained to black customers in white-run shops. It’s like going back in time. Although it’s not as severe as it was in late 60s and 70s it’s still noticeable.” Gilmore and his wife the Rev. Lillie Gilmore is a Greenville resident for over 30 years. She attributes the increase in tension to Donald Trump’s political rhetoric. Lillie Gilmore stated, “Think about that, all the people he puts down.” He puts down Hispanics and then he puts women down… You’ll always have those groups that will follow him. Amos Gilmore stated that he was inciting them. Mayor Errick Simmons said that spray painting the name of a candidate is not considered hate speech. However, “Vote Trump” is an exception to this rule. Simmons stated that “it has that connotation.” Simmons said that the country’s atmosphere has allowed people to get out of their closets and commit these cowardly acts. Many residents claim they don’t remember a more brutal presidential election. Some suggested that arsonists could have targeted hate at Democrats just as much as African Americans if they wanted. They are often one and the same in Greenville as in many other towns in the Delta. According to U.S. Census Data, Greenville has 78 percent African American residents. At 89 percent support, Hillary Clinton is ahead of Donald Trump in the African American vote. This compares to Trump’s seven percent. Rev. Rev. “Everyone is wondering if it was hate crime. Green stated that it is not a hate crime. “…But, I encourage everyone in my congregation to vote. And I am a Democrat. We’ll leave the matter at that.” Chief Wilson, however, hesitates to distinguish between political and racial motives. It’s about suppressing someone’s civil liberties, the way they want to vote. Wilson stated that it was a hate crime as any other. Wilson said, “I think that that plays a major part in the history with what’s happened with (burning) African American church, that and the importance of the black church within the community.” However, while many are puzzled by the question of who started the fire, others admit to being more confused as to why Hopewell was chosen as a target. It is small and rectangular, with yellow brick. It sits right next to the railway tracks. Powell’s house is located in the most direct line of sight. Green stated that his church is not like other churches that were burned during Civil Rights. Lillie Gilmore stated, “This church is isolated, it’s peaceful.” “I know this, if they are committing hate crimes, it’s not in Greenville,” Lillie Gilmore said. They held hands. They prayed. They sang “This Little Light of Mine”. Rev. Justin White, a minister at First Methodist Church, which is predominantly white, was one of the organizers. He said that he wanted to create a positive event to remind Greenville residents that it is a town united. “The truth is that a historically black church was destroyed in Mississippi. White stated that no matter what the motivation, it is evil. To support this work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story You can republish our articles online or in print for free under a Creative Commons licence.